Despite Progress in Nuke Talks |

Iran and Powers Divided Over Sanctions, U.S. Officials Say

Round of talks in Geneva are most meaningful and serious negotiations ever conducted with the Iranian leadership, senior EU and U.S. officials note.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

GENEVA - The two intense days of nuclear talks between Iran and the six world powers in Geneva ended Wednesday, with senior U.S. officials describing them as the most meaningful and serious negotiations ever conducted with the Iranian leadership.

Despite the great progress and positive atmosphere, however, there were still fundamental disputes between the sides, particularly with regard to the degree and type of sanctions relief the Iranians would receive in return for their proposal, the Americans said.

By mutual agreement, the six countries and Iran did not release any details about the Iranian proposal. Senior U.S. and European officials noted that the absence of leaks during the talks and the media discipline exercised by both sides was itself evidence of how different and serious this round of talks had been.

Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, who led the U.S. delegation, was expected to update National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror and possibly other Israeli officials on the substance of the talks and the preparations for the next round of negotiations. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is traveling to Rome next week, is expected to meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry there to discuss the Geneva discussions.

Israel responded with cynicism to the latest round of talks. “Iran will be judged by its actions and not its PowerPoint presentations,” senior officials in Jerusalem told Haaretz.

“Until we see practical steps that prove Iran is decommissioning its military nuclear project, the international community must continue with the sanctions,” the officials added. “The pressure of sanctions has brought Iran to this point and we must ensure that they are not lifted until such time as Tehran ends its pursuit of military nuclear capability.”

The few details that were provided over the two days indicate that the Iranian proposal consists of three phases to be implemented over the course of a year:

1. Confidence-building measures: Iran's willingness to limit the scope and level of uranium enrichment. Apparently the Iranians offered to suspend the enrichment of uranium to 20 percent, reduce the number of centrifuges operating in Iran and increase the inspection of nuclear facilities. In return the Iranians are demanding relief from the international sanctions imposed on them. This stage could be completed within three months.

2. Interim measures to be implemented by both sides.

3. The “end game,” which describes the comprehensive agreement between the sides, under which the Iranians would sign the Additional Protocol that is part of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which allows the International Atomic Energy Agency to make unannounced inspections of nuclear facilities and suspected sites in Iran. At this stage all international sanctions would be removed.

At the end of the talks an unprecedented joint statement was issued by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and foreign affairs chief of the European Union Catherine Ashton. The statement characterized the talks as “substantive and forward looking,” while the Iranian proposal was described as an “important contribution” that is being “carefully considered” as a “proposed basis for negotiation.”

The sides agreed to hold another round of talks in Geneva on November 7-8. These talks will be preceded by sessions of experts who will deal with the scientific and technical aspects of the measures the Iranians will take to limit their nuclear program, and the type and scope of the sanctions to be lifted in return.

U.S. officials expressed satisfaction with the talks in a briefing in Geneva Wednesady. “I've been doing this now for about two years,” said one U.S. official, “and I have never had such intense, detailed, straightforward, candid conversations with the Iranian delegation before.”

The official added: “Although there remain many differences in each area … specific and candid discussions took place.”

Zarif also sounded optimistic. At a press conference convened at the end of the talks, the Iranian foreign minister, who was suffering from severe back pain, described the two days of talks as what “will hopefully be the beginning of a new phase” in relations between Iran and the international community.

"Our goal is to give confidence about the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program. There is no reason to be worried about it," Zarif said, while reiterating Iran's stance that it would not give up its right to nuclear energy.

American officials stressed that the talks could not be described as a breakthrough, but as the start of a process. They said that disagreements remained, particularly with regard to which sanctions should be removed in exchange for the steps Iran is proposing. They noted that the issues are complex and technical and would require a high level of clarification.

Zarif also referred to the disputes between the parties over the sanctions. He noted that the six world powers (the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany) had come quite a way toward understanding Iran’s positions, but would need more time to digest the Iranian proposal and decide how to respond.

Zarif also said his country expects the United States to refrain from enacting any additional sanctions against Iran. Several U.S. senators and House members have been working on a bill that would do just that.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton and Iranian FM Mohammad Javad Zarif prior to the start of two days of closed-door nuclear talks, October 15, 2013, in Geneva, Switzerland.Credit: AP

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